Jim Barnes, through the lens of a trip along the Wicklow way, considers how hiking can be both onerous and immensely enjoyable.
To quote Homer Simpson, “What’s the point of going out? We’re just going to wind up back here anyway”. Three friends and I were recently driven down to Clonegal, Co. Carlow, to start a 130 km walk across Wicklow back to South Dublin. Along the way I discovered not only that Homer’s statement was true, but also that in order to walk the Wicklow Way, one must beforehand buy rain gear, a tent, hiking boots, a water filter, cooking equipment, and a whole host of other paraphernalia. So why bother?
Well for anyone who often finds aspects of modern life, be it the 9 to 5 or a constant stream of readings and assignments to be done for college, incredibly stressful, I can only recommend some sort of hiking holiday. There is without a doubt, something very satisfying and peaceful about the simplicity of all of your daily tasks just consisting of walking. Instead of worrying about whether you acted too cold with a friend the other day, or if you made the right call to go out to the pub instead of studying, or what the hell it is you want to do in life, you get to spend a few days where the pains in your legs and shoulders take precedence above all else. Of course the slightly less masochistic of us could also choose to walk the Wicklow way without camping, by just staying in hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts along the trail. I’m not saying that I have absolutely no respect at all for these people, but I do think the feeling of escapism is lost there.
We stocked up on food twice over our five-day hike, and both times involved walking about 3km off the trail, just to get to a shop. The sensation of going out of our way to return to civilization gave a sense of being isolated, yet a part of nature when walking on route. Admittedly this is ignoring the part of the Wicklow Way that goes through Glendalough, where you can hardly move for tourists, can order a gourmet burger and most importantly, indulge yourself in a rake of pints. To be fair, at this point I’m fairly sure a projector showing the latest Marvel movie would seem natural beside the round tower and monastery on a sunny evening.
While I’d be quite confident in stating that hiking is not the most efficient form of travelling, the joy is in the journey.
I was told that when doing long journeys with friends, it’s important to choose those who you know you’d be happy to spend an inordinate amount of time with. That makes sense I suppose. It’s important to have a dialogue with the group about where you want to be camping and how much you plan on walking each day. Then again, I’ve never done a multi-day hike with loathsome bastards who I couldn’t stand the sight of. It could be much more fulfilling.
One of our flaws as Irish people is the constant putting down of our picturesque island. On a beautiful hot day we tend to say: “Sure you could be in Spain.”, on seeing an incredibly steep mountain with a river cascading down it into a lake it might be: “You could be in Switzerland.” A lot of people, myself included, would have liked to have done a bit more travelling over the last 18 months. However the creative limitations imposed by a pandemic have undoubtedly made so many of us realise what a scenic, verdant country we live in. While I’d be quite confident in stating that hiking is not the most efficient form of travelling, the joy is in the journey. It’s quite amazing how using just your feet can take you places which feel far from everything, the only infrastructure or civilization being the odd pole every now and again with a small picture of a yellow man and an arrow showing you the way.